Vegetable and fruit farmers
One reason the Philippines is so underdeveloped is our neglect of agriculture. We’ve kept farmers poor, and the list of reasons is a long one: tilling land that often isn’t their own, underdeveloped infrastructure such as irrigation and farm-to-market roads, lack of access to credit and financial assistance, lack of technical help not just for agriculture but for entrepreneurship…
If the agriculture sector is neglected as a whole, it’s worst when it comes to vegetable and fruit farmers, with the pandemic and lockdown causing even more misery among them.
I recently discovered a group called Rural Rising, run by a couple, Ace and Andie, both from Baguio City but now based here. “Accidental farmers” they call themselves, thrust into a mission of “rescuing” vegetables and fruits from farmers who have been cut off from markets and regular buyers. They operate out of a house in UP Village (72 Maayusin Street, 09125220289) generously rented to them by San Miguel for a tiny token amount.
You can’t predict what vegetables will be coming into their store. I had first heard about them from a friend who told me they had Sagada oranges, the real ones and not the Made in China wannabees. When I got to their office, they had run out of the fruits, but they had Nueva Vizcaya oranges, which I hadn’t seen in years. I’ve visited them twice, and gone away with mangosteen, persimmons, bananas, corn, passion fruit.
They offer “crates of trust,” where you leave it to the couple to decide what to put in. Also “crates of hope,” where you choose what you want to get, at a fantastically great deal: Almost everything is P999 for a crate, or about 6 kilos. And here’s the amazing twist: When you buy the crate of hope, Rural Rising will donate an equivalent amount to a COVID-19-affected urban poor community.
Ace and Andie had so many stories about how the vegetable farmers are desperately trying to make ends meet. They had questions for me, too, hoping I could apply an anthropological eye to what they find ever so mysterious: why vegetable and fruit prices fluctuate like crazy. They gave one example, that of tomatoes, which can go up as high as P20 a kilo, but during the pandemic, prices went down to P8 a kilo in markets. Farmers, however, were disposing of them at P2 a kilo on roadsides, just to get rid of the easily perishable produce.
Ace and Andie offered a group of farmers P8 a kilo for 3 tons of eggplant. When they got back, the farmers had sold them at P0.50 a kilo to their creditors, who apparently caught wind of the P8 deal.
Straightforward, I said, there’s the fear and intimidation. But farmers without support from government, or from organized groups (e.g. cooperatives) will also drop prices just to have money on hand for their families. It’s not a cultural problem; it’s the economics of despair.
I wrote to Ruth Batani of the Benguet State University to ask for an update on the vegetable farmers there, and she sent me a depressing report on how farmers tried, when the lockdown was first imposed, to sell their produce at rock-bottom prices. Then in April, stricter lockdowns meant they could not even sell, and the produce was left to rot.
But I’m sure many readers saw how organized Benguet farmers were able to sell to the wealthy subdivisions in Metro Manila, finding richer patrons who arranged for them to come on weekends.
There’s so much yet that needs to be done to rationalize this sector with all its potential. Demand should actually increase, the pandemic raising people’s awareness of the need for healthier eating. But will this mean vegetable farmers getting a better deal?
Do check Rural Rising — they’re open all week from early in the morning (I went at 8 a.m.).
Also another discovery — get the app of Session Groceries in Baguio. Someone first recommended the outlet when I was looking for betel nut for one of the lumad leaders stranded in Manila. I ordered from Session Groceries, but it turned out Quiapo has several suppliers.
At least I got to know of the store, and have been able to order from them vegetables and fruits and, take note, herbs, which have run out in Cubao and other suppliers.
Lots more to do. I’ll help keep readers connected to the groups that help farmers help themselves.
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